We all have times when we feel demotivated, or just too tired to give one hundred per cent. Often, we know why we experience these slumps and can pull ourselves out of them with whatever boost floats our boats. But for children this can be a real challenge without care and guidance, and getting into a positive frame of mind for learning just might be too much of a trial at times.
The good news is that generally, the fluctuations in mood and motivation that seem to be part of the human condition become more familiar, if not easier to deal with. Children can build their resilience through such times and perhaps become more able to cope with life’s ups and downs. However, it is essential that those feeling demotivated, adult or child, are supported through it towards a more fulfilling frame of mind.
If you want to give engagement a boost in your lessons, these ideas may work…
- Excitement… there is an excitement around learning new things. Making the puzzle pieces fit together, understanding the relevance of new knowledge, and being able to do more with that knowledge can be very empowering whatever age you are. Developing a strong culture of excitement, awe and wonder around learning for everyone, adults and children alike, in your school just might have a long-term impact on motivation to learn. It will also reinforce the message that lifelong learning, and the desire to learn, should be the norm for everyone. That is not to say that each lesson needs to be a bells and whistles extravaganza. Clearly that is neither desirable nor possible as there will be times when learning needs to be methodical, laser focused and repetitive. But that fire for learning can still be ignited!
- Effort… we all know that the more we put into something the more we get out of it. Effort is invariably rewarding. The more effort we put in, the greater the results are likely to be. This stokes our engagement and motivation to learn. Focus on the effort that children put in, rather than the outcomes and watch what happens. Intrinsic motivation is a far more powerful driver for learning than extrinsic motivation. Hooking intrinsic motivation is key. Don’t forget, however, that extrinsic motivation can lead to intrinsic motivation.
- Explain… it is always worth explaining to your class why they are doing a certain activity or learning a certain unit of work. Most teachers do this anyway but making it crystal clear can help to motivate children. For example, we need to do this, so that we can do that. What will children get out of the work? Why is it important? Where will it lead next? Where can they take it themselves? How does it link with other subjects? Are there any famous examples? What does the library have on the topic?
- Showcase… every now and then a topic will really capture the imagination of a child and they will go above and beyond in their work. They may even explore the theme in their own time or undertake their own project to take their learning further. When this happens, showcase what they do to inspire the rest of the class. Reward that commitment and celebrate learning for the sake of learning.
- Comment… rather than lavish praise, comment on what you notice about a child’s learning. Are they concentrating a little more, asking questions more frequently, or getting down to work more quickly? Comment on steps in the right direction. This specific feedback is more effective than a generic “well done” and is more likely to be remembered. It just might feed that all-important intrinsic motivation, too.
- Accept… no-one has fully functioning enthusiasm all the time. We all fluctuate in our moods and energy, and this can have a direct impact on our enthusiasm for life. Teaching is more than lighting a fire! Interest, enjoyment and satisfaction all play a part in stoking enthusiasm and motivation and sometimes this will be harder to access than other times. That’s OK. Accept it. As long it doesn’t last indefinitely.
- Develop autonomy… opportunities for independent learning are a great way of developing autonomy, which can lead to enhanced intrinsic motivation. It can also boost self-esteem, too, which is essential for a positive attitude towards learning.
Children who are engaged and active learners are more likely to achieve and continue to develop their skills and talents throughout education and beyond. While incentives may provide some motivation, they are unlikely to lead to long-term positive engagement. Yet helping young people to learn to love learning is one of the greatest things we can do for the children we teach, and with even a slightly sharper, more-targeted focus, this is well within our reach.
About the author
After graduating with a degree in Politics and International Relations from the University of Reading, Elizabeth Holmes completed her PGCE at the Institute of Education, University of London. She then taught humanities and social sciences in schools in London, Oxfordshire and West Sussex, where she ran the history department in a challenging comprehensive. Elizabeth specialises in education but also writes on many other issues and themes. As well as her regular blogs for Eteach and FEjobs, her books have been published by a variety of publishers and translated around the world. Elizabeth has also taught on education courses in HE and presented at national and international conferences.